Last month, the Children’s Safety Center hosted Partners + Prevention, a lunch fundraiser benefiting the mission of the CSC. As a member of Kappa Delta sorority, (a partner of the Children’s Safety Center), I had the chance to attend to do a piece on the event and even talk to the First Lady of Arkansas, Mrs. Susan Hutchinson. Here’s my takeaway from the event:
Partners + Prevention was held at The Apollo in Springdale, what used to be an old theater has recently been beautifully renovated. I got to the event early so I could get the chance to look around and get a feel for the venue before too many people got there. As I walked around the room the first thing I noticed (besides the food), were the colorful centerpieces on the tables. Each table was adorned with a painted handprint of a child. I’ve been to the Children’s Safety Center before, so I was no stranger to these handprints. I knew that each handprint was the handprint of a child who had gone through the center. I also knew that the hundreds or so handprints around the room were but few among the thousands that cover every inch of walls in the Children’s Safety Center. As I drew closer to the handprints I noticed the tiny placards attached to centerpieces. The placards included the name and age of the child whose hand the print belonged to. Sydney age 4, Preston age 9, Joslyn 13, Joshua 4 months … one handprint in particular drew my eye. It was the handprint of Charlie age 5, and included with it was a quote from Charlie as he talked about where he wanted his handprint to be placed in the Children’s Safety Center.
“I want to put my handprint by the door, so you can give me a high-five every day and say, “Good morning Charlie!”
By the time I had made my rounds circling the room, guests had begun filing in. Parents, children, police officers, First Lady Susan Hutchinson, Eric Pianalto the CEO of Mercy hospital, Garrett Lewis of KSFM-TV … I took it as a sign I should find my seat.
Once everyone had found their seat, First Lady Susan Hutchinson stood up to give the opening speech. A former teacher herself, Mrs. Hutchinson stressed how important it is that we protect our children. Mrs. Hutchinson works closely with the Children’s Safety Center and other like it and travels to educate others on the work and importance of the all the advocacy centers in the state. It was quite obvious from her speech, how much not only time, but heart, she had vested into the protection and awareness of child abuse. After she spoke I felt comforted and proud that she is among the leading women in Arkansas.
After the First Lady spoke, awards were given to partners of the Children’s Safety Center: Johnson & Johnson, Sam’s Club, and Stephanie Graham with Washington County DCFS, all of whom had taken time out of their lives to come and support a cause they believed strongly in.
The final speaker of the event was Garrett Lewis. You may know him as the chief meteorologist of KSFM – TV but few could guess the reason he was there to speak. With unbelievable poise and tact, Mr. Lewis told us his story of being sexually abused as a child. Mr. Lewis spoke so well and with so much strength and ease that I (among others I’m sure), wondered how he was able to tell his story so effortlessly – a story that brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. As if reading our thoughts, Mr. Lewis explained that he has told his story so many times that he often forgets how hard it is to tell. With time and practice, his story has become easier to tell, not easy, but easier. He explained that the reason he believes he is okay, mentally and emotionally, is because he was able to get the proper care and counseling as a child. He expressed his gratitude for his mother who was able to pay for the help he needed, but he recognized that there are many other victims that are not so lucky. The counseling and care that he credited as his saving grace, are the very things the Children’s Safety Center provides for free. He then told us that he was abused when he was in kindergarten, the same age his son is now. He told us that it’s become harder as an adult because he sees himself in his child and that he never wants his son to have to go through what he went through. Upon saying those words Mr. Lewis gave the first and only indication of just how hard his story was to tell.
Mr. Lewis ended his speech so perfectly that the only way I knew how to properly capture it was to simply use his direct words. He ended by saying, “You never really live until you know what you’d die for … Child abuse is a topic no one wants to talk, but we should talk about it and be open about it. I tell my story because I know that if I can tell my story, that maybe they can tell their story too.”
Despite the sadness and emotion that surrounds the topic of child abuse, Mr. Lewis’ speech still rang of the same feeling I got when reading the quotes by the children who had gone through the center. Hope. Our county is among the leading two counties in child abuse cases. This April is child abuse prevention month and it’s never too late to give. Regardless of what you give, your donations give voice to children who can’t speak. You give them hope and invest in children and their future. If you can’t take my word for it, then perhaps take the word of First Lady Susan Hutchinson who I had the chance to talk to after the event:
What drew you to the Children’s Safety Center? Why do you think it’s so important for children?
My mom and dad had difficult childhoods. It didn’t have anything to do with child abuse but there were different tragedies and it impacted them and shaped them. My mom always taught me how important children were and the lord certainly teaches us that in his word. And then as a soccer mom, with a big strapping 14-year-old soccer player and hanging out with another soccer mom, one day she confided in me that her dad was a pedophile. That was the first time that I saw normal people doing such things. There was so much pain in her life and in her sisters’ lives and she told me that as a child she would pray to the lord that he would die so her mom would marry a nice man. Her prayers didn’t get answered that way but that’s how sincere the children’s’ prayers were for help. They are desperate, and they need our help and they are crying out to god and we are his answer. So, we have to be ready, and prepared, and on the alert and help those children be in a safe place. We need to help these children know that they were never let to live a nightmare, they were meant to have sweet dreams and blossom, and grow, and trust, and love, and happy, and giving, and strong, and get their education and find out if they’re an artist or a scientist or a horse back rider or whatever. We don’t need this man-made trauma disrupting the person they were meant to be or the life they were meant to live. There’s many adults, in prison today in Arkansas that this was in their past and it was a huge stumbling block for them in their development. Life spans are shortened by as much as 20 years, different health problems develop over the years beside the dysfunction that can happen and the sleepless nights as a grown 40-year-old woman … I met a lady like that. But finding someone you can trust to talk and for them to believe you… for them to find adults that do believe and love them anyway and help them get rid of the nightmares … it can be an amazing world when we listen.
University of Arkansas – Kappa Delta Sorority